Horseracing’s true lifeline

April 22, 2021

Past the Wire offers the first on the record conversation with a CAW player

Separate the facts from the fiction about CAW players and high volume wagering outlets

CAW or Computer Assisted Wagering players remain one of the biggest enigmas in the sport of thoroughbred racing. They are referred to as syndicates, rebate players, teams, whales, and are viewed by some as the enemy of the bettor and a detriment to the sport of kings. They’re shrouded in mystery, and much of what has been reported about them, how they play, what they have access to and who they are, is simply not accurate. 

I recently had a conversation with a CAW player, with the understanding I would write an article detailing key points in the interview. The purpose was to provide accurate information about computer assisted wagering so that people can form an opinion based on reality as opposed to inaccurate assumptions. 

I was introduced to the player by an executive at one of the racetracks this player wagers on. The one condition that was placed on me was that the player remained anonymous. I both understood and respected this request. That said, the credibility of the article had to be equally protected. 

As many of you know, ADW companies have something called TRA codes assigned to them so the wagers from the respective ADW companies can be tracked. CAW players receive their own TRA codes so their wagers, handle and everything they do can be tracked directly to them. 

The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, or TRPB, has a policy to not be quoted as part of any article or by any media sources. Therefore, I was not able to confirm with the TRPB that the player I spoke with has been assigned their own TRA code. Accordingly, I had to confirm this and other facts in the article through other sources and my own due diligence, which I am confident in. 

In order to authenticate that the person I spoke with is a CAW player I confirmed with three different US racetracks that this person has a TRA code and does in fact wager into their pools. 

To keep things simple, I will refer to him as The Player going forward. 

Before we get to the Q and A, here are some key points I learned or verified through the conversation. 

There are four primary high-volume wagering outlets that CAW players wager through. They are Elite, which is part of The Stronach Group, RGS out of Nevada, Velocity which is part of Churchill Downs, and Centurion, which is also called PariBet. 

CAW players are not teams or syndicates per se. In fact, most US racetracks require that each CAW player be a single individual who is responsible for the wagering activity. The TRA code through one of the four high volume wagering outfits is traceable to a single individual who is ultimately responsible and accountable for all wagers made through that assigned code. Not just anyone who has a large handle annually can get a TRA code and become a 

CAW player. It requires a background review process, and the wagering companies screen them and know exactly who they are. 

The number of CAW players in the industry can be determined by the number of TRA codes assigned accordingly.

Now our Q and A: 

Q: How did you first become involved in horse racing? 

The Player: As a handicapper. A friend took me to the racetrack in my 20’s. 

Q: What made you want to become a CAW player? 

The Player: I wanted to get to the pinnacle of the game. I’m competitive, as most of us are, and I wanted to take it to the top level if I could. It has taken a long time, but I have been both fortunate and successful. 

Q: How has your handle changed since you first became a CAW player, and were you successful as a handicapper prior to going CAW? 

The Player: Well, the year before I went to CAW, I wagered about 106K and collected about 190K. So yes, I was successful, and was wagering about 100K a year. Today it is much higher. 

Q: How much higher, is it one million annually, ten million annually? 

The Player: Let’s just say it is exponentially higher. And all of my wagering generates host fees which get paid to the racetracks and horsemen putting on the races. 

Q: That is a considerable contribution to the sport, what do you think would happen to the game if all CAW players were driven away or barred? 

The Player: Well, you would find certainly see handle reductions at most racetracks in North America. That handle reduction would cause a meaningful drop in purse money. It might not hurt the tracks with slot machine gaming as much because many of them derive a large portion of their purse money from slots. But for the tracks without slots, I suspect it would be quite harmful. 

Q: You receive rebates based on the amount you wager. What do those rebates accomplish other than putting some extra money in your pocket? Obviously, we both understand playing more money will generate higher rebates, that is just business. 

The Player: The rebates allow me to play more and  increase my churn significantly. They allow me to look at, and play more tracks that I might not normally play or look at. I mentioned earlier that I made a pretty good profit my last year as a handicapper before becoming a CAW player. So, the rebate is not necessary for me to make a profit. But with the rebate, I can greatly increase my volume of wagering because even if I make a bit less back on my wagers the rebate helps me get to a positive return. The rebates allow me to get involved in more pools at more tracks. 

Q: You said that you wanted to get to the pinnacle of the sport. Many players do, but not many go to CAW. What led you to becoming a CAW? 

The Player: I actually started with a spreadsheet. Like an excel spreadsheet. Over time it became a bigger and more complex spreadsheet. I then had someone computerize it for me. 

Q: What type of information goes onto the sheet?

The Player: The same things I used to look for when handicapping manually. Any CAW model will be based on the data fed into it, the angles along with all the relevant past performance data and statistics. There are certain angles I believe are important in the outcome of a race. My computer program just helps me analyze those angles more quickly and more efficiently. But the data alone is not enough because that data is available to everyone who wants it. What is important is how I interpret the data compared with how others interpret it. 

Q: So, garbage in garbage out would apply. 

The Player: Yes. If I based my computer program on underlying handicapping angles that are faulty, then no matter how quickly or efficiently those angles are analyzed, I’m still not going to win. 

Q: Is it expensive to develop a model based on the angles and projections a savvy handicapper would want access to? 

The Player: Yes, I have people who assist me, and keep up the computer model who I pay quite well. I spent a seven-figure sum and years of work to get to the point where I could begin as a CAW player. 

Q: That is probably where the team or syndicate idea stems from, but to be clear the wagers are yours, based on your computer model that was designed based on concepts you developed over years. 

The Player: Yes. They assist me, and I pay them well. But the wagers are mine. When my bets win it’s my money, when they lose it’s my loss. I pay people to help me update and operate the computer program so that I have more winners than losers. 

Q: One thing I am very confident about, for a number of reasons is the inability of CAW players to see un-played or open combinations in multi-race jackpot wagers. I do not believe they can. Can you see open combinations not yet played in any multi-race wagers? 

The Player: No, absolutely not. None of us can. I know I can’t and if I can’t other CAW players can’t. We all receive the same data feed, and that is the same data feed as is sent to racetracks, OTBs and ADW companies around the country. It doesn’t even make sense that we could know the un-played combinations. The CAW players play against each other and are in competition with each other. If CAW players had access to the un-played combinations, then there would be no single ticket winners. We’d all have it. We’d all literally have to be conspiring together to decide who hits what when. 

Q: Additionally, and correct me if I am wrong, but I and many other players could have a ticket being structured on my app, or phone, and it could include open combinations, and at the last second, I (and the others) hit send, or bet, and there goes all those open combinations. 

The Player: Yes, absolutely correct. It just can’t be done.

Q: What types of wagers do you gravitate to? 

The Player: I like the multi -race wagers. Win, place and show are difficult because the public is smart and those are very efficient pools. The multi-race wagers are more difficult to intuitively price and therefore having a good betting strategy helps. By betting strategy, I mean knowing how much to bet on each potential combination that I like. My computer model helps me refine my betting strategy. 

Q: Where is your biggest edge as a CAW player? People say you can make voluminous bets with the touch of a single button at the last second. I don’t know how that exactly would be an edge, I guess it can be, but is it true and where is the CAW edge? 

The Player: Depending on the pool, it takes minutes not seconds, to get my bets in. In some pools when I have a very large number of combinations it can take several minutes to get all my bets in. I have to make sure I start betting early enough to get all my bets in. As for my edge, the more data available the more of an edge I think computer analysis can give you. Races and horses where a lot of data is available to analyze is where I think I generally do best. But it is important to know what data to value and what data to disregard. It’s not the computer making that decision, it’s me. 

Q: That said if I devote enough time to a sequence, or race, to evaluate everything where it may take me several hours, where say your model can do multiple races in minutes, in my sequence you only have an edge if you are better than me or happen to be right and me wrong in that sequence. It is a fair fight because whoever makes the better selection will win, correct? 

The Player: If you spend hours handicapping a sequence manually, and I do the same in a matter of minutes using my model, the one of us who will win is the one that picks the winning horses. All the computer power in the world doesn’t help if I’m valuing the wrong factors and don’t pick winners.

Q: Specifically, what does your model look for and access? Would that also be true for most of the models out there? 

The Player: I look to accurately predict the probability of a horse winning and anticipate the odds on that horse. Once I assess the probability, I look at current odds. In multi-race wagers, just like you, and I am familiar with you from reading Past the Wire the past few years, I anticipate what the actual odds will be. In predicting the probability of a horse winning, I care most about my homemade variables that my experience over years of watching races tells me are important. 

Q: Ideally you are looking for horses with a higher than their odds probability of winning and using via computer all the information available in the past performances, and your spreadsheet angles to find them. 

The Player: Yes, like any other player I am looking for a horse I think should be 8-1 where the odds are 10-1. 

Q; Are there any disadvantages to being a CAW player? 

The Player: For one, I can’t cancel any wager. CAW players cannot cancel any wager once played, for any reason. Once we wager it stands, no cancellations at all. It is part of the agreement. We are not allowed any alternates. If a race gets a surface switch and becomes an all-race like in certain jurisdictions we get killed. Or if a horse scratches and I get the post time favorite that for whatever reason I don’t like in that particular race, I am stuck with it. All my wagers are seen and scrutinized. That is part of the deal as well.

Q: So, the high-volume rebates arrangement bars you from any cancellation for any reason, and leaves your wagers isolated for review and to be evaluated anytime? 

The Player: Yes. That is true for all of us. 

Q: Are there any other disadvantages to CAW players? 

The Player: Well for one thing, when we are wrong, and like everyone else in the game we are wrong a lot, it is very costly. When things that are pretty much unpredictable occur, and we know they do, we have very bad days. Sometimes by the results I can tell CAW players got killed. When CAW players have a bad day it is very costly to them and very advantageous to the retail players in the pool. 

Q: I would say that a savvy player who say knows a trainer who flies under the radar likes to drop a horse after giving them a race on the grass prior to say Saratoga to win a race up there every few years, then sprint them on the dirt with blinkers on can actually give me an edge on you. Your model or any model won’t know things and the sharp players can compete in those scenarios. Agree or disagree? 

The Player: I agree. There are times my gut or instinct tell me something my model doesn’t, and I find myself torn. It happens and I will usually stick by the model, and it can be costly and frustrating. 

Due Diligence: 

As aforementioned I could not utilize the TRPB although I attempted to do so. That said, anyone is welcome to contact them or any other source with actual knowledge of how CAW works, and I do not see how anything contained in this article could be called inaccurate. I was able to confirm through three different racetracks that the player was a CAW player with a TRA code. That was enough for me. 

I also reviewed a racetrack simulcast contract which clearly addressed cancellations, and none are allowed by CAW players under any circumstances whatsoever. 

High Volume Wagering Outlets: 

RGS: I contacted RGS and John Brooks was willing to go on the record with me. 

Mr. Brooks confirmed that no cancellations are allowed for any reason. Even if there is a late scratch that affects the race, or sequence, CAW players are locked in. 

He also confirmed that CAW players do not have access to open or un-played combinations. 

In closing Mr. Brooks added that the open un-played combination access is so misunderstood and inaccurately discussed he often fields inquiries on it from his own high-volume players. 

Velocity (Churchill Downs): I wrote to a representative  of Velocity on two occasions about speaking to him, but he did not reply. 

Elite (The Stronach Group): Elite was willing to go on record with me. They confirmed no cancellations are allowed and also CAW players cannot see open or un-played combinations.

Centurion (PariBet): I was not successful speaking with anyone who would go on record at Centurion. 

In conclusion I found “The Player” to be both a gentleman and pleasure to talk with. He was open and transparent and did not refuse or evade any question I asked him. I would say he loves the game, and wants it to survive and thrive, and not solely because he is successful at it. 

At some point we have to be realistic about CAW players. Are they the enemy of the bettor, horsemen or the sport? I have to say no. I think a better argument can be made they are essential to it at least today. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar or have a Harvard education to know the Player was correct in his fear about what would happen to the sport if CAW players were run off. We’d likely lose handle and purses would decline. The numbers don’t lie. What does our handle and all these record breaking all source handle days look like without them? 

If they do not have an unfair advantage, and I do not see where they do, why would we not want them in the pool? If you are a recreational player or play simply for fun, you should appreciate the handle and what it contributes to the sport. If you are a professional or serious player looking to be one of the few who beat the game, suit up. May the best players win.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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